For very good reasons, folks are talking these days about Massachusetts' transportation funding crisis. But don't be fooled. While transportation is the funding crisis of the moment, there are a wide variety of other areas of state spending that are also approaching a crisis point.
One of those areas is funding to cities and towns and to K-12 education, and this extensive and well-researched article from CommonWealth Magazine really spells out the problem. The article looks particularly at low-income communities and the difficulties they are facing in funding education. Exhibit A is the town of Orange in Franklin County.
Communities like Orange have been hit both by problems with the funding formula for K-12 education and the simultaneous dramatic cut in funding to cities and towns for general services (Orange's general local aid has been cut 36% in the last four years). So for Orange, what have these funding cuts meant?
- Twenty-two elementary school staff were laid off last year, eliminating all art and music programs in the elementary schools.
- Rain drips into classrooms through leaky roofs the town can't afford to fix or replace.
- Computers bought in the 1990s have never been updated.
- Orange has shut off all town street lights.
- The town can no longer afford to heat all municipal buildings in the winter.
- The Town frequently cannot afford 24-hour police coverage and must leave some shifts vacant.
This is not the path to a healthy community, or to a strong economy. More and more communities will begin to look like Orange if the state's revenue deficit is not addressed. Massachusetts needs significant tax reform legislation that raises substantial new revenue while protecting low- and middle-income families and seniors from big increases.